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CHAPTER VIII - Anticipating Black Swans

Before the conference ended, the participants considered the possibility of an unanticipated event—a black swan—occurring that would have the ability to reshape the telecom policy agenda, reducing the priority for some issues or increasing the urgency of others, or introducing entirely new issues. Blair Levin described five different kinds of black swans:

  • Macro-economic—e.g., a big recession that depresses demand and discourages capital investment.
  • Micro-economic—e.g., industry realignment, due to one or more big acquisitions, or a major shift in the balance of competition within a market.
  • Technology breakthrough—e.g., a powerful tech innovation that dramatically lowers cost or increases the performance of a network, or a new entrant who introduces new capabilities that change a market configuration.
  • Incident—e.g., a “cybersecurity Pearl Harbor” type of malicious attack, a “cyber Three Mile Island” type of inadvertent accident or natural disaster that results in a prolonged network failure that disrupts communications and commerce and other critical activities sufficiently to shake public confidence in the digital economy.
  • International event—e.g., a sharp increase in anti-American Internet policies abroad or foreign interference with U.S. satellite operations or a trade war that compromises the flow of information internationally.

The group also took note of the possibility of an unanticipated positive but disruptive event—a golden swan, perhaps—that would also be of sufficient magnitude to reshape the communications policy agenda. Included here might be rapid growth of blockchain-based applications that reshape a field like banking or healthcare, a major advance in artificial intelligence and/or robotics that makes previously science fictional scenarios a reality, or a breakthrough in quantum computing that makes hitherto unthinkable amounts of computing power available, or the arrival of a new ultra-high performance wireless technology that obsoletes wired or current wireless networks.

Although the probability of any one of these events happening may be low, it is not at all unlikely that some such event will occur during the next Administration that will cause a re-ordering of policy priorities. But whether or not a black swan or golden swan appears, it is certain that the next administration will have to address an extensive and urgent telecommunications policy agenda.

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